WHEN he’s not been behind the wheel of his lorry, Neil Redpath has been busy sharpening his combat skills.
And it’s a good job, because the 46-year-old dad-of-two from Seahouses is about to deploy to the front-line of Afghanistan with fellow TA soldiers from the Fifth Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
The date of their departure is a closely-guarded secret, to prevent the Taliban from springing any nasty surprises once they touch down – a tactic commonly employed by insurgents.
Neil, who joined the TA as a Fusilier in 1985, now holds the rank of Colour Sergeant and works at the TA Centre on Lisburn Terrace in Alnwick, home of Z Company, where he manages the day-to-day running of the unit.
But in his normal civilian life, he holds a Class 1 heavy goods vehicle license and spent many years on the nation’s roads hauling everything from petrol to refrigerated goods.
“As a lorry driver, you get very little exercise and work very long days,” says Neil, who ran his own one-man agency providing relief cover for haulage companies. “It’s not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination.
“Joining the TA gave me a lot of opportunities to go to many different places, including the USA and Canada, while getting paid for it. If I hadn’t joined, I would never have experienced a lot of things.
“I came off my second tour of duty with the United Nations last September, part of Operation Tosca with the UN Roulement Regiment in Cyprus. The first time I was there I was attached to the Signal Regiment Group, a composite TA unit, which has responsibility for patrolling the Green Line in Nicosa which separates the Greek and Turkish areas of the island.
“My job was to provide all the life-support and administration, while the second time around I was providing political and media analysis, briefing commanders on the ground.”
For the forthcoming tour of Afghanistan, however, Neil has not yet learned what role he will be fulfilling.
But to ensure he is ready for any challenge ahead of him, he is training hard both with the TA and in his own spare time.
Only a few weeks ago, Neil was at Battlecamp, where soldiers from 5RRF and other regiments were preparing for their deployment to the real-life theatre of war by completing a week of intensive combat training with rifle, machine gun and other weapons.
It was, however, just the latest part of a long process.
“The likes of Battlecamp and the exercises we do are really the normal bread and butter for us,” says Neil. “There is an expected level of fitness and when you are being mobilised, that level is stepped up.
“You also have the likes of the annual fitness test to build up to, which is eight miles carrying a 25-kilo pack, which must be done in two hours. Otterburn has a couple of cheeky hills but there is a lot of mental fitness required.
“In my age group, I’m also expected to complete a mile-and-a-half run, with press-ups and sit-ups, in under 12 minutes. Happily, I don’t take that long.”
Watch out for updates from Neil during his time in Afghanistan, which will feature in the Gazette after his deployment.